Airline food catches a lot of flack for being a bit bland. However, it’s important to note that it’s more about the human body’s reaction to being 30,000 feet in the air than the actual food itself. A study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics found the combination of dryness and low pressure on planes reduces the sensitivity of human taste buds for both sweet and salty by 30%.
Furthermore, as Fritz Gross, director of culinary excellence at LSG Sky Chefs Asia Pacific, told CNN in 2012, airlines aren’t as interested in taste as they are focused on food safety.
“Our top concern is actually food safety,” Gross said. “Because we do such a large volume, we cannot afford to have things in there that are not right. You can imagine how easily an airline can get sued.”
Why then is pasta off the menu? Because beyond food safety, Gross noted, some foods simply cannot handle the cooking process at altitude. Pasta, like all dishes in the air, is typically reheated before serving, meaning it’ll likely be well overcooked by the time it gets to you. If you’re expecting it al dente, you won’t be happy. Furthermore, if the ratio of sauce to pasta is off, it will likely lead to a sloppy mess that will be far from tasty.
Dr. Charles Platkin, executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, reviewed and rated the foods available on 11 U.S. and Canadian airlines and noted that pasta or other carb-heavy meals may not be the best bet on flights for those either looking to find something healthy, or those hoping to arrive at their destination feeling alert.
“Eating lots of heavy carbs such as pasta with thick, dense sauces, breads, muffins or cakes will leave you feeling lethargic, cranky, and not full or satisfied,” he said. “Your blood sugar levels will spike and then fall, which will negatively impact how you feel.”
What then can a flier eat instead? The best bet may be to forgo airline food altogether and pack your own. Packing snacks like popcorn, protein bars, and whole fruits is easy, and even foods that are considered “liquid” like peanut butter and hummus come in TSA-friendly sizes, making it easier than ever to pack a few things, eat healthy, and avoid airline prices along the way. See more healthy travel-ready snack options here.